‘There’s more to life than f***ed-up beginnings:’ A.V. Rockwell’s film captures a beautiful struggle


Courtesy of Focus Features

That’s a line from Inez in A.V. Rockwell’s new award-winning film, “A Thousand And One,” an enthralling film about both the coming of age experience in New York and the beautiful struggle.

It’s already won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize of 2023 and has a whopping 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Teyana Taylor melts into the protagonist, Inez, a formerly incarcerated single mother who would quite literally go to war to protect her son from the streets of New York and the foster care system. 

“I’ll go to war for you. you know that? Do you understand that? Against anybody, against this whole fucking city,” she tells her son in one particularly heart-wrenching scene.

Being that Harlem is Taylor’s hometown, her authentic New York accent and on screen interactions fit together both organically and flawlessly to tell the story of Inez, making it difficult to pull our gaze from the screen. 

Inez is a young 22 year-old woman determined to make a way for herself after returning home from Rikers Island prison. She quickly becomes tormented by the idea of her son Terry (played by Aaron Kinsley Adetola, Aven Courtney and Josiah Cross at ages 6,13 and 17) being left in the care of the state. 

While trying to get back on her feet as luck would have it Inez reconnects with downhearted six year old Terry and makes a point to look after him every chance she gets. Later in the film Terry ends up in the hospital with a head injury after a failed attempt at running away from his current foster family. Inez, never far behind, finds him and makes the hasty decision to kidnap Terry, give him a new identity and raise him herself, leaving viewers disquieted at the edge of our seats for what will happen next.  

As Inez and Terry set off on their new journey together as mother and son, they face hurdle after hurdle. From financial stress to putting a roof over their heads, Inez and Terry struggle to keep Terry’s true identity a secret from law enforcement while the city gentrifies around them. 

Director A.V. Rockwell does an immaculate job at slowly depicting the major changes within the communities around Inez and Terry as time progresses. Snippets of background conversations about the city’s apartment buildings being bought out and glimpses of well-to-do families moving in gives viewers a glimpse into a changing city. 

Eventually, Inez’s long time lover, Lucky, (masterly played by William Catlett) returns to Harlem from prison as well and takes Terry in as his own, giving Terry the father and family dynamic he’d always longed for. As the years go on it becomes harder for Terry to keep his secret and he begins to question more about this life .

“A Thousand And One,” encapsulates Black womanhood and addresses the obstacle of gentrification in underprivileged communities. It’s a masterpiece in filmmaking.